Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
New Video Shows Aftermath Of Russian Strike On Military Base In Mykolaiv; U.N.: Nearly 10 Million Ukrainians Displaced Since War Began; U.K. PM: Putin In "Total Panic" Fearing A Pro-Democracy Uprising; Interview With Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT); Ukrainians Describe Culture Of Fear & Suspicion In Lviv. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 19, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, an all-out Russian assault. Rockets fired by Russian forces destroy a military base in one of the deadliest attacks against Ukraine's Army since the start of the invasion.
A diplomatic dare: Ukraine's current and former leaders call on President Biden to show he is serious by making a high risk trip to Kyiv.
Total panic: The British Prime Minister now says Russia's Vladimir Putin lives in constant fear. He says he is terrified Moscow will follow Ukraine's example and revolt.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer and this is a Special Saturday Edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: This hour, a dramatic new damage assessment from Ukraine. Officials there now say more than 14,000 Russian troops have been killed since the start of the invasion. Plus, get this, 95 Russian aircraft, 115 helicopters and nearly 1,500 armored vehicles and 213 artillery pieces have been destroyed according to the Ukrainians.
CNN is unable to verify those numbers, but we are getting confirmation of a very important battlefield development. Very significant. Russia has now used hypersonic missiles to destroy a Ukrainian ammunition depot.
CNN is bringing you all the late breaking developments with our teams on the ground and across the globe for that matter.
It's just past midnight in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Our senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley, is on the scene for us.
Sam, fighting outside the city where you are today, one of the most deadly attacks on a military base, also in Mykolaiv, first of all update our viewers, what can you tell us? SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, here in Kyiv, Wolf, there have been air raid sirens, there haven't been any immediate explosions recently, but the whole city is covered in a pool of smoke. It's a mysterious smoke. We haven't been able to get any understanding from the government here what might be causing it.
It's thick, it is acrid and it has been over the whole city now for about 24 hours. But that notwithstanding, there has been, of course, continuing fighting on the outskirts of the city. But the real focus in terms of latest casualties have been down in the city of Mykolaiv in the south on the border, rather on the coast, where there has been a catastrophic level of loss for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, arguably their worst loss so far, when a barracks that housed around 200 soldiers was hit, it would appear, and this is our analysis, by precision missiles, not least because the Russians have been so inaccurate when they're not using these precision missiles.
But the scale of this destruction would indicate high level of ordnance and a devastating blow to the people there. On top of that, of course, and I should warn some of our images here are also very graphic in the hospital, soldiers being treated have been very, very damaging moment in the fight for that city.
No sign yet though, that the Russians have been able to break through. This is a city where from which Nick Paton Walsh Wells has been doing so much reporting, which has been very heavily contested and very heavily and successfully defended -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly has been, but it's really, really a dangerous place right now. And unfortunately, a lot of Ukrainian men, women, and children are being killed by the Russians in the process.
Sam, stay safe over there in Kyiv. I know those sirens have been going off. We heard them just a little while ago as well.
Also new tonight, U.S. officials say Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine against a military ammunitions warehouse in western Ukraine. Russia's Ministry of Defense said the missile system destroyed radio and electronic intelligence of the Ukrainian military in the Odessa region.
Let's go to CNN's Kylie Atwood, she is joining us from the State Department right now.
So what are you hearing, Kylie? What's the latest U.S. assessment?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Wolf, U.S. officials saying that Russia did use these incredibly, incredibly fast moving missiles, hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week.
Now, this is the first known instance of hypersonic missiles being used in combat ever. It's incredibly significant and they travel at five times the speed of sound or faster. That of course makes defenses incredibly challenging.
ATWOOD: Now, U.S. officials said that they were able to track these missiles in real time, which is significant, but they also said that Russia likely used these missiles to test them and also to show off what military capabilities that they have to the West. That's according to U.S. officials.
Now, as you said, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that these did destroy structures in western Ukraine, and we should note that introducing these new missiles to this already deadly crisis is incredibly concerning for the United States.
Now, when it comes to hypersonic, we should also note that the United States is top priority right now in the military space. One of them is developing their own hypersonic missiles, as Russia and as China have worked on their own capacity -_ Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Kylie, thanks very much. Kylie Atwood at the State Department.
According to the United Nations, nearly 10 million people in Ukraine have now been displaced since Russia started its invasion about four weeks ago, more than three million of those people have actually fled Ukraine entirely to neighboring countries with many relocating to neighboring Romania, for example.
That is where CNN's Miguel Marquez is, in Romania. So Miguel, what's the situation there tonight?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the humanitarian crisis is just growing, Wolf, but a half million Ukrainians have fled to Romania, most of them have moved on. That's a similar situation throughout Europe where, you know, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians going to other cities throughout Europe.
You know, this as protests are also continuing throughout cities in Europe and around the world, we caught up with a couple of Russian protesters today who were protesting the war in front of the Russian Embassy in Bucharest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATALIE FALKOVSKAYA, LEFT RUSSIA BECAUSE OF WAR IN UKRAINE: I know many people who are against the war, and it is really complicated. It is really dangerous to be against the war in Russia, because you know, because they will -- the police will catch you and they can arrest you.
EUGENIA RUMENKO, RUSSIAN AGAINST WAR IN UKRAINE: There are literally a fight in every home, you could say. Younger generation and older generation are struggling to find understanding right now. I'm sure that every Russian right now understands that something is going terribly wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MARQUEZ: That first woman you heard from, she actually was arrested in Moscow a few weeks ago. She was picked up for just looking at material that was anti-war. She said she was held for five hours then ticketed, she left Moscow, not entirely sure what she's going to do.
She is a student and not entirely sure what she is going to do now for the rest of her life, but she feels that she cannot go back to Russia at the moment.
You know, this as everybody from individuals to cities to the country of Romania now, you see this everywhere across Europe where they are trying to do everything they can to support refugees that are coming across their border, great concern for just how vulnerable they are.
There is incredible concern that in the days and weeks ahead that those internally displaced, those millions internally displaced in Ukraine, if the Russians move west and they continue to use that indiscriminate force in civilian areas, there will be another tidal wave of refugees in the places like Romania -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel Marquez in Bucharest for us. Miguel, thank you.
Important note to our viewers, for information on how you can help the people of Ukraine, go to cnn.com/impact, you will impact your world.
Joining us now Leon Panetta. He is a former Secretary of Defense, former Director of the C.I.A., also served as the White House Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton. Impressive resume by Leon Panetta.
Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, for joining us up. You probably heard this, but the current U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, says Russia is now making incremental gains in the south. Do you see signs that Ukraine's military though, is starting to falter under this enormous and brutal Russian offensive?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, there is no question that the Russians have overwhelming strength there, and they are trying to apply it in every area, particularly now in the south.
So Lloyd Austin is probably right. They're making some incremental steps to really move the ball here, in terms of being able to take over areas, but I think the Ukrainians are still putting up a hell of a fight. They really have stalled the Russian army in a number of ways. They have delayed their ability to move forward.
The Russians are using obviously these missiles, they're using artillery. They're engaged in wanton killing of innocent men, women, and children. I still think that the Ukrainians have a fighting chance here to be able to send a clear message to Putin that he is a loser in this war.
BLITZER: U.S. officials are confirming today and you've heard this as well, that Russia is now using these hypersonic missiles. These are weapons that travel at Mach 5 speeds, and they're using these missiles inside Ukraine. How significant of a development is this?
PANETTA: Well, you know, we seem to be worried, and we should be about escalating the war there in Ukraine, I understand those concerns. But Putin is not worried about that. By using hypersonic missiles like this, he is escalating the war in Ukraine, and using the kind of missiles that not only travel at supersonic speeds, but can't avoid detection on the ground. This is a weapon that can really, ultimately escalate this battle because we can't allow those kinds of hypersonic missiles to be able to now target areas wherever they want, and not have the ability to bring them down.
This is -- I think this is a dangerous escalation in the war.
BLITZER: Yes, that's what I've been hearing all day right now. This could really, really escalate what is already a horrible situation. As you know, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he wants direct peace talks with Russia, but do you see a scenario in which that happens? Putin doesn't seem to want any kind of peace talks right now with the Ukrainians?
PANETTA: Well, Wolf, look, we know one thing that Putin operates by force. He has been doing that most of his life and it is exactly what he is doing in Ukraine now is the wanton application of military force.
And very frankly, the only thing he understands is the use of force. So that is why, it is absolutely critical that we provide as much weaponry and assistance and military support as possible to the Ukrainians right now because their ability to continue this fight that more than anything else, killing Russians, and stalling their advances, that more than anything else sends a message to Putin that he is in trouble.
If the Ukrainians want to negotiate, and obviously, they should try to negotiate, but they need leverage and the best leverage they can get is by getting the Ukrainians the help they need to be able to fight the Russians.
BLITZER: As you know, President Biden on Friday, in a two-hour phone conversation with China's Xi Jinping, he spoke of consequences should the Chinese decide to actually help the Russian invasion? What do you expect China to do as a result of that phone call?
PANETTA: You know, my sense is that -- and I've talked to people with some knowledge about the impact that the Ukrainian war has had with regards to China. I think it has made President Xi pause in just exactly what he's going to do. I think he is going to be very careful and walk a fine line here, trying to obviously provide some words of encouragement to Russia.
But in terms of actions, I think China knows that if they take steps to provide military weapons or significant economic aid, that they're going to be labeled a pariah, just like Putin is labeled a pariah. And, frankly, China cares about China. They know that if they do that, it will impact on their economy. It will impact on everything they've tried to do in order to influence other countries to work with China. I don't think they want to pay that price.
So, I'm glad that the President did that and I think we've just got to make very clear that if they do that, they're going to pay a price.
BLITZER: They certainly will. I don't know if you heard about this, but Ukraine's former President Poroshenko just a few hours ago, right here on CNN said he thinks President Biden should travel to Kyiv this week. He's going to Brussels for the NATO Summit.
If you were still in the Oval Office working with the President, would you advise President Biden to make that trip? It clearly would be pretty risky.
PANETTA: Well, as a former Chief of Staff, your primary concern is protecting the President of the United States, and I think that should be the primary concern at this point, which is to make sure that we protect the President in every way possible.
PANETTA: If there is a way for him to meet with Zelenskyy and it is secure and can be done without jeopardizing the President's security, I would say that they should look at that possibility, but I think for the President to go into the middle of a war zone at this point in time, I'd have to say, that really makes me very concerned about the President's safety.
BLITZER: Yes. Earlier, a few days ago, three NATO allies -- leaders of three NATO countries did make that risky trip to Kyiv and met with the Ukrainian leader. We'll see what happens when the President is in Europe this week.
Secretary Panetta, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
PANETTA: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a new CNN reporting President Biden's relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Next week, President Biden will travel to Brussels to meet with 29 other NATO leaders in person to discuss Russia's war in Ukraine. Top adviser to the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy tells me, he would welcome President Biden to his country if he were to come.
Earlier today, by the way, the former Ukrainian President Poroshenko told CNN's Jim Acosta that Biden should add Kyiv to his itinerary. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PETRO POROSHENKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Joe Biden, the leader of the global world will demonstrate now the leadership. Why don't he come visit Kyiv next week?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us from the White House right now. Arlette, tell us what the White House is hoping to establish to achieve in these really extraordinary meetings with NATO leaders and the European Council for that matter next week.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House has described President Biden as a big believer in face-to-face diplomacy and he will have the chance to do just that when he travels to Brussels on Thursday for a host of meetings with allies starting with that extraordinary NATO Summit where they will be talking about defense and deterrence measures in the wake of this Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Additionally, the President will be able to reaffirm to NATO allies, the U.S. commitment to those countries especially as there are concerns with many of those countries who currently border the conflict. President Biden will also be meeting with the European Council as well as hold a meeting with G7 leaders something that was requested by Germany, and they could also be discussing things like sanctions and the humanitarian assistance that they will be offering in the wake of this crisis.
But even as Ukrainian leaders are suggesting that President Biden go directly to Kyiv while he is in Europe next week, sources say that that trip is unlikely to happen. But while the President is on the ground there in Brussels, it will give him an opportunity to further coordinate the U.S. and allied Western response to Russia in the wake of this aggression against Ukraine.
Officials have also said that the President will be discussing China's role in all of this following that meeting, that virtual call that he had with President Xi Jinping of China yesterday, where he warned that there would be consequences if China were to assist Russia in any way.
But it is clear that the U.S. and its allies are finding this to be a pivotal moment to come together to further respond to Russia's aggression, but also figure out ways to help Ukraine as they continue to defend themselves against this onslaught -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arlette Saenz at the White House for us, thank you.
Also tonight, a new CNN reporting inside President Biden's strategy in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere is joining us. He has done a lot of reporting on this. So what are you learning -- Isaac.
EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, look, Joe Biden always talks about Foreign Relations is about relationships. He has known Vladimir Putin for basically the entire time Putin has been in power versus the senator, Vice President, now, as President and he really reads a dynamic that Putin has and wants to have with him and is also looking at that and saying, it is guiding his sense of what Putin is going to do here.
There is that story that Biden likes to tell that he said, to Putin one time, I've looked in your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul, of course playing off that famous George W. Bush moment, and that Putin said back to him, I think we understand each other. That's what's in Biden's mind when he looks at Vladimir Putin.
BLITZER: How is President Biden's personal relationship, the dynamic with Putin over the years shaping the tone for his meetings with NATO and European allies this week, the last time Biden and Putin met was last June in Geneva. I was there covering that Summit and it was relatively successful, at least at the time, that is what U.S. and Russian officials suggested.
DOVERE: Yes, and of course, the last time they spoke on the phone was about a week before the invasion of Ukraine began, and what we're seeing with this trip to Brussels this week is very much part of the dynamic that Biden wants to have with Putin and deny the dynamic that they think Putin wants, which is a one-on-one Washington versus Moscow situation here.
Biden has very purposely left this to a lot of allies to be the ones talking with Putin recently. He has made it so that it doesn't look like America is telling the world what to do when it comes to sanctions, even though a lot of the sanctions that have come out are because of guidance and pressure from American officials.
They want this to be the world turning on Putin, a global alliance saying this is not the way that we want it to be, not Joe Biden saying that.
BLITZER: Yes, in recent days, President Biden has called Putin a thug, a dictator, and a war criminal. He is not mincing any words at all.
Isaac, thank you very, very much for your reporting.
DOVERE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, one of the single most deadly attacks on Ukraine since the worst started, a Russian rocket hits a military base in Mykolaiv and I'll speak with a key member of the House Intel Committee about the situation in Ukraine. We've got new information when we come back.
BLITZER: Happening now, taken against their will. Tonight, Mariupol's City Council says more than 1,000 residents have been illegally forced into Russian camps across the border. Their phones and documents confiscated.
A deadly strike in Mykolaiv. Officials now say dozens of Ukrainian troops there are dead after a direct hit on a military base.
And a new video from Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls for peace talks without delay. His message to Putin, and I'm quoting now, "Time to meet, time to talk."
Plus, new pictures just released by the Vatican showed Pope Francis visiting Ukrainian refugee children in Rome today. The Vatican says, some of the children are receiving treatment for cancer and neurological diseases and some of those kids are being treated for severe injuries from the blasts.
Let's get some more in what's going on. Joining us now Congressman Jim Himes. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Among other things, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today that Russian President Putin is in a 'total panic' over the prospect of a revolution in Russia itself, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... has been terrified of the effects of that Ukrainian model on him and on Russia. And he's been in a total panic about a so-called color revolution in Moscow itself. And that's why he's trying so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine and that's why it is so vital that he fails.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congressman Himes, do you agree?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, it's hard to know exactly why Putin is ratcheting up the violence, committing additional war crimes, moving populations out of their own country is a clear violation of the laws of armed conflict. But it is true and I think the Prime Minister gets it right that at the core of Putin's fear is the notion that right on his doorstep, there might be a country in which democracy and freedom obtain, where journalists can do tough reporting without being at risk of being thrown off the top of a building the way they are in Russia.
So yeah, the fear of a democracy is why he got into this, and frankly, it's why he's going keep upping the ante right now because now he's cornered. Now he's cornered. He's got an economy that is in freefall. He's losing a war, not only as his economy flat on its back, but he's demonstrated to the Russian military, it's not nearly what he or what the rest of the world thought it was. That's a dangerous place for him to be it.
BLITZER: It certainly is. You probably heard this, but CNN sat down with the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Bulgaria yesterday. He had this assessment of the Russian military progress, watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They have not progressed as quickly as they would have liked to. I think they envisioned that they would move rapidly and very quickly to seize the capital city, they've not been able to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But here's what fears that a lot of U.S. experts that Russia now will ramp up, actually ramp up its brutal assault on Ukrainian civilians, including children and women in light of the slow progress that their military is making on the ground. What do you say to that?
HIMES: Well, I think that's exactly the right fear to have now. The Defense Secretary is exactly right. Putin anticipated that this would be a weeklong thing that the Ukrainians would roll over, that he wouldn't need to fight a war and now he's fighting and losing a war. And when I say losing, I mean, just not making progress against military objectives.
So he doesn't have the military assets on the ground to - in any meaningful - way control the country. And this is where it gets ugly, Wolf, so what does he do? He keeps upping the ante on sheer brutality, moving populations, as you talked about. We're worried about the possibility of the use of a chemical or biological agent and the whole theory there would be let's break the will of the Ukrainian people, because I think Putin understands that he's not winning armor battles, he's not taking cities or controlling cities in any meaningful sense. So what he needs to do is to try to break the will of the Ukrainian people and that could get really ugly.
BLITZER: Well, do you think he would use chemical weapons?
HIMES: Well, we know that he had and you'll recall, of course, the two attempts not just in his country, but in the United Kingdom. The Salisbury attack in which Russian agents used Novichok chemical agent to try to assassinate a dissident, former government agent.
So three weeks ago, a lot of sources were really wondering whether he might invade a vulnerable and unprovoked country that did not provoked him. So with Vladimir Putin, the answer is never no, he wouldn't do that. He has and there's a very real risk that he might.
BLITZER: Yes. That's a good point. A lot of us didn't think he would do what he's doing right now. He clearly is doing it. A new video, by the way, shows these hypersonic Russian missile attacks against Ukrainian targets is the first known use of these weapons since the war began. How worrisome is this development?
HIMES: Well, again, it's all part of what I think his strategy is now, which is to raise the level of fear not just inside Ukraine, where he's going to try to break the will of the Ukrainian people through everything that we've seen him do in the last three weeks, but you know now Westerners like - and Americans and Europeans are talking about something that we've never seen used in war before, which are these hypersonic missiles.
Now, does that - a hypersonic missile is sort of interesting militarily because it's not really trackable and that's a huge issue around nuclear weapons. So I'm not sure necessarily that this - the use of hypersonic weapons does anything other than sort of raise the ante for the question of how far will he go. And I think he's trying to suggest to us that the answer is he'll go pretty far.
BLITZER: Yes. He's presumably going to go a lot further and a lot more wonderful people are going to die in the process. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Today, Norway's Prime Minister says four U.S. service members were killed in a crash during a NATO training exercise on Friday. U.S. officials confirmed Marines were involved in the accident, but have yet to comment on the status of the individuals. NATO says the aircraft was training in what they call a cold response and it says the exercise has no connection to the war in Ukraine. It is yet another reminder of the risk American military members take every single day.
Just ahead, we're live in Lviv with a look at the security situation and what it's like for Ukrainians trying simply to continue daily life and the difficulties they're having just trying to walk down the street.
BLITZER: One Ukrainian city has been described as ground zero for refugees still in the country. We're talking about Lviv. It's only 43 miles from the Polish border. But as Russia escalates its brutal attacks in the western region of Ukraine, many of those living in the city are now facing increasing security checks and disruptions to their daily lives. CNN's Scott McLean has the latest.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, even before the first bombs were dropped on Lviv, there was plenty of anxiety in the air here as sort of new culture of fear and suspicion driven not just because of the war, but because the government has been warning about the enemy lurking amongst the population. And even for native Ukrainian speakers, this is a new term for a lot of people, Rosiys'ki dyversant (ph), Russian saboteurs.
MCLEAN (voice over): Days after the invasion began, this Lviv office was set up to help Ukrainians fleeing war. But not everyone who comes here is welcome. Shortly after we arrived, the man we're filming draws suspicion from staff. They tell us he has links to Russia. Police are called, documents are checked, questions are asked, more than an hour passes and then tells us his only link to Russia was a five-year-old passport stamp. They let him go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (on camera): Even here in Lviv, a city that is far remote from the front lines we've had the police called on us twice, we've been asked to show our documents more times than I can count. And some people even say that random ordinary citizens are asking total strangers to produce identification. But if somebody asked you for your identification or your passport, you wouldn't think it was weird.
ANATOLII HRYHORIV, LVIV RESIDENT: I wouldn't think - for now I wouldn't think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (voice over): Anatolii Hryhoriv says two weeks ago he was walking home after sheltering in this bunker during an air raid alert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (on camera): And you saw two guys that look suspicious.
HRYHORIV: Yes. And they were going to the bushes.
MCLEAN: And they're walking through the bushes.
HRYHORIV: We physically grabbed them here and didn't let them cold. We would probably let them go, but if they could show us some documents or something like that, but they didn't.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through interpreter): They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. We have information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kyiv.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (voice over): Ever since the President's warning, CNN found that in Mykolaiv any men out after curfew gets special attention from police. And in Kyiv, even those fleeing through humanitarian corridors don't escape scrutiny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLEKSANDR KAMYSHIN, UKRAINIAN RAILWAYS CEO: Because we are afraid that Russians may have sent some of their own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (voice over): Ukraine's rail chief says security has been beefed up to guard against saboteurs planting special targets to guide Russian missiles. Staff detained this man near Kharkiv.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Constantly gauge them and send them to police.
MCLEAN (on camera): How do you know, for sure?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian documents (inaudible)--
(END VIDEO CLIP) MCLEAN (voice over): A few days into the war, Volodymyr Lytvyn's wife says she spotted suspicious vehicles without headlights outside their home near the airport. By the time he went to investigate, police were already there pointing guns in his direction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR LYTVYN, LVIV RESIDENT (through interpreter): And it was an unpleasant experience for me, but I'm happy that there are such security measures. If you're an honest person and have no bad intentions, there's nothing to worry about.
MCLEAN (on camera): Was the word saboteur in your vocabulary before the war started?
LYTVYN: (Foreign language).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (voice over): But finding links to Russia is complicated in a country filled with Russian speakers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROKSOLANA YAVORSKA, UKRAINIAN SECURITY SERVICE SPOKESPERSON (through interpreter): It is simply impossible to consider every Russian- speaking person is saboteur. A saboteur may have a characteristic Russian accent, not just be a Russian speaker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (voice over): The Ukrainian Security Service in Lviv says only soldiers and law enforcement can demand a person's documents. But in wartime--
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YAVORSKA (through interpreter): To detain or not to detain a suspect with your own hands is the decision of each person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN (voice over): Despite all the hype, she says not a single person in Lviv has been charged yet with sabotage.
MCLEAN (on camera): Now, I also asked about the risk of innocent people getting caught up in this frenzied witch hunt for Russian saboteurs and the Security Service told me that it has a filtration system to verify suspected saboteurs that involves a polygraph test.
And even if they do believe that someone is a genuine saboteur, that person will still get their day in court even under martial law. Wolf? BLITZER: Scott McLean, thank you very much. Excellent report.
Coming up, Russia launches the first hypersonic missiles into Ukraine. We're going to assess the situation on the ground with a retired U.S. General.
And former presidents Bush and Clinton joined together to show solidarity for Ukrainians that and a lot more.
BLITZER: Rescue operations were underway today in a key Ukrainian port city after a Russian missile strike reportedly killed dozens of Ukrainian soldiers. Let's discuss this and more with retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Steve Anderson. General, thanks for joining us.
One of the survivors of that strike in Mykolaiv reportedly told a CNN affiliate and I'm quoting now, "Of the approximately 200 who were there, I would guess, about 90 percent did not survive." This region General has been a target of unrelenting Russian attacks. Why is this going on?
BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, thank you for having me, Wolf. And this is incredibly important, strategic target and objective for the Russians, the port of Odessa, that's a gateway to Eastern Europe for the Ukrainians. They are trying to take that from them, about 50 percent of their imports and about 70 percent of their exports to include the number five producer of wheat in the world number four, corn, they all go through that port.
So the Russians want to take that. It's incredibly important strategic objective of them. Also, if they were to take it, it would give them another line of supply into Kyiv it's vitally important that we continue to fight there and resist all advances into Odessa.
BLITZER: New satellite images, General, show Russian forces digging northwest of Kyiv, the capital, fortifying their position outside the capital. What do you think is in store for that city in the coming days? Do you think that Ukrainian resistance which over these first nearly four weeks has been very impressive, do you think that can hold?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. I am incredibly impressed with the Ukrainians. What they're doing is they're digging (inaudible) probably trying to get their artillery in. What they want to do is continue to reign terror upon the people of Kyiv. But I know the Ukrainians are going to resist as they have been doing and they will continue to do so.
But the Achilles heel of that artillery course is logistics, its fuel and ammo, incredibly intensive requirements for ammunition and Ukraine has been doing a great job of stopping their supply lines from delivering that kind of artillery out there so they can continue to resist. There's 300,000 buildings in Kyiv, there's no way that they're going to be able to fight their way in there. So what they want to do is encircle Kyiv and then shower them with artillery, cruise missiles, maybe even these hypersonic missiles we saw earlier today, they're going to try to use that to degrade the will of the other Ukrainian people.
And I got news for Mr. Putin, it's not going to work.
BLITZER: Well, let's see what happens. Now, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, he's pushing Moscow for a meeting. Putin at this stage reportedly unwilling to hold talks at that level. Do you see any diplomatic options that are seriously on the table right now or will this brutal war continue?
ANDERSON: I suspect it will, Wolf. I don't see any options really right now. We must be negotiating from a position of strength. And in order to do that, I think I agree with Secretary Panetta when he's saying we got to take the attack to the Russians. They've got to continue to maintain the will to fight. They've got to prevent the encirclement of Kyiv like I just mentioned. They've got to prevent the loss of Odessa and the United States needs to step up.
We need to win the logistics battle. We need to push all these items that were approved recently by Congress and President Biden. Push them into Ukraine so they can continue to fight. We owe the Ukrainians an incredible debt. They have exposed Putin for who he is. They exposed how poor his military is and they have succeeded in uniting the entire world behind them because of their courage and their commitment. We need to keep supporting Ukrainians in the biggest possible way and we need to leverage on logistics to do that.
BLITZER: And as I keep saying Ukraine post absolutely no - I repeat - no threat at all to Russia. And look what Putin and the Russians are doing right now, killing a lot of wonderful people.
Gen. Anderson, thank you so much for joining us.
ANDERSON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A moment of powerful bipartisan solidarity today. You see on your screen, presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, visiting a Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago where they laid bouquets of sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine to show their support for the besieged country. Both presidents, by the way, wearing blue and yellow ribbons, the colors of the Ukrainian flag in the video, which they tweeted out to their respective accounts last night.
And we close at this hour with this truly poignant moment of resolve.
That beautiful melody is Ukraine's national anthem. It's become a song of defiance three plus weeks into Vladimir Putin's brutal war. The soloist, by the way, is a Ukrainian soldier right in the middle of a bunker. And you can see there his audience, fellow fighters, they are all listening. They're standing in attention, some recording the special performance on their phone.
And thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back Monday 6 pm Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM. Pamela Brown picks up our coverage right after a quick break.